It’s sure to open up the flood gates of debate outside of temples and lunch rooms everywhere when David Sax’s new book, “Save the Deli: In Search of the Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of the Jewish Delicatessen” comes out on Oct. 19. Sax reports, Los Angeles is the best deli city in America. As Rob Eshman states from the Jewish Journal, flip to chapter 10, and read this little tidbit.
“Brace yourself New York, because what I am about to write is definitely going to piss a lot of you off, but it needs to be said: Los Angeles has become America’s premier deli city.“
While I haven’t exactly traveled the country, or the expanses of both New York’s and LA’s deli scene, I have been to both premier pastrami kings on the left and right coast. So for this battle I’ve pitted New York’s venerable Katz’s Delicatessen against LA’s own long standing Langer’s Delicatessen and a clear winner has emerged.
Let’s compare locations. Katz’s is located in the once seedy, now trendy lower east side neighborhood. You feel fairly confident and secure walking around in the neighborhood nowadays, too and from the F train. Langer’s is located adjacent to MacArthur Park. One of the most densely populated areas in the city. The park attracts some pretty shady characters. You can get tamales, calling cards for Mexico, a variance of illegal prescription drugs, and a drivers license with any name on it you want. There is 1hr validated parking a block away or you can take the red line to the MacArthur Park station.
If it were about location, off the bat Katz’s would win. But it’s not about the location, it’s about the food, the ambiance, the entire experience. Upon entering Katz’s you are directed to a counter to order your food. They encourage you to be ready with your order before you begin. During their busy hours you can almost always expect a line, and you don’t want to hold up those busy New Yorkers.
I’m not a fan of rye bread, so we order sourdough. Which comes in roll form, not sliced like the rye. Their pastrami is cured for 30 days and is hand cut right as you order it. Thick, juicy pieces of pastrami, heavily blackened on the edges with pepper and spices. The meat, slightly chewy, has a thin ribbons of fat splintered throughout the meat. Most of the flavor in this pastrami comes not so much from the thick sliced, flaky interior, but the fatty, well seasoned skin.
Langer’s loses in hours of operations. They are only open Monday-Saturday (8am-4pm), while Katz’s is open 7 days a week with late hours on the weekend. Langer’s is primarily waiter/waitress service. So no feelings of being rushed here. Just sit down, relax and read over the menu of potato cakes, matzo ball soup and their famous pastrami, while you enjoy your cup of joe.
They are known for their fresh baked rye bread. But like I said, rye is just not for me, so I stick with sourdough. At Langer’s if you order sourdough you get sliced sourdough, so it’s hard to make a comparison to the bread. Their pastrami is cured, smoked then steamed. The are more precise with their cuts here, thinner and more uniform slices, which results in a very moist, melt in your mouth experience. Their meat had less fat and as a result seemed to have a more distinct and savory flavor than that of Katz’s. They don’t rely on the thick cuts of meat and heavily seasoned skin here.
While it’s a very close race, and Katz’s may win for locale and hours, but I lean towards Langer’s for it’s thin sliced, delectable, melt in your mouth pastrami. I am sure you will find hundreds of people on each side of the argument. Angela, my girlfriend and eating counterpart, preferred Katz’s thick cut pastrami over Langer’s. It also must be said that as I write this, Langer’s is still fresh in my mind from the weekend. While my trip to Katz’s was a month or so ago, and so Katz’s is suffering from somewhat of a handicap.
Finally, since I am a web guy, I’ll throw this out there too. The Langer’s web site is light years ahead of Katz’s. Langer’s offers drive up curb service and both offer shipping for over the phone orders.